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Kathy Miller lives and breathes events. In fact, after 30+ years and countless projects with Fortune 1000 companies, major trade associations and not for profit organizations nationwide, she still thinks it’s fun. Her exuberance and sense of limitless possibilities are contagious. All who work with her are continually amazed that she never looks for shortcuts or rests on her laurels. She always has her eye out for the next “great idea.” Each new project is a challenge, a puzzle to be solved, a solution waiting to be discovered – or invented. But first, Kathy asks a lot of questions and from the answers, she helps each client determine their event strategy, which will guide every decision throughout the rest of the process.
Total Event Resources, a leading Chicago meeting and event planning company, produces innovative events for Fortune 1000 companies, major trade associations and not-for-profit organizations. Recognized as a PepsiCo Supplier of the Year in 2011 and a certified Woman Owned Business, Total Event Resources has been producing award-winning events around the world since 1995.
Total Event Resources has been recognized with multiple awards such as: ISES (International Special Events Society) Esprit Awards, Gala Awards, NICE! (NACE ISES Chicago Excellence) Awards, MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Awards and the Business Ledger Newspaper Annual Award for Business Excellence in the Hospitality Category.
MO: Can you talk a bit about your entrepreneurial journey of starting Total Event Resources on a limited budget in 1995, building it into an award-winning, internationally recognized event planning company?
Kathy: That’s a hard question. Who knew? That would be my first thought. Really. I didn’t start a business just to start a business. I started a business as an independent special events producer to focus and refocus my life to spend more time with my husband and children. Fortunately, in 1995, there was a lot going on, and I happened to have the right client base that was in need of what I did, which was assisting them in the creation, planning and logistics of producing meetings and events all around the world. I don’t think I could have written the story saying, Ok, here I am today with ten full-time employees and a ton of freelancers that work with us, producing global meetings and events; it just evolved and happened. I was also very fortunate back then because people were just calling me saying, Can you do this event for 3,000 people in Orlando, Florida? Here I was trying to refocus my life, but I was saying yes to everything. The difference was, without the commute, I had more productive work time and more productive family time, and I wasn’t feeling that I could never be around, so my work was balanced. Well, as much as one can be balanced in our industry, anyway. This industry doesn’t sleep. It’s 24/7. You are at the mercy of the event, meeting, timeline, client deadlines, but it was a better balance.
MO: When did you know that you were going to succeed? Have there been any specific professional milestones that have held special significance for you?
Kathy: I guess I’m the kind of person where failure is not an option. That’s not always an easy journey for people who are perfectionists like I tend to be. I really had to change my mantra from being a perfectionist to striving for excellence. I think that’s when I knew I would succeed, and everything didn’t have to be perfect. There were still going to be failures, but I had to learn from them. One of my biggest moments was being accepted to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. There were hundreds of applicants, and I think it was fate that I was one of them. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to work on my business instead of in my business.
MO: If you could help plan and execute any event in the world, with unlimited resources, what would you choose and why?
Kathy: First and foremost, who doesn’t want to produce the opening or closing ceremonies for the Olympics? That would be the coolest thing ever. Secondly, we are very passionate about paying it forward. I would love to see, and be a part of an event that took place around the world on the same day. I am passionate about aiding and educating for two causes; abused women and children, and also poverty. I think poverty has a lot to do with abuse and tends to fuel abuse, so the two are related in a way. So wouldn’t it be cool that on a given day, we had an event that took place around the world that is about social responsibility for abused women and children?
MO: Can you give some examples where you’ve taken what could have been a boring business meeting and elevated it to something special and memorable?
Kathy: We have done so many it’s hard to identify just one. However, one of the most memorable for me was a meeting called Crunch Time. The Crunch Time meeting had a lot of information and education to give the audience, so doing it in a very creative way and gaining their attention and starting their campaign months before the meeting was one way to accomplish that. For the Crunch Time theme, we actually lit a competitor’s truck on fire. It was Crunch Time! So it was all about crunching numbers and crushing competition.
MO: Congratulations on being appointed as International President of The International Special Events Society (ISES). Can you talk about the significance of this role and what you hope to have achieved by the end of your term?
Kathy: This role was a culmination of my 35 years in the event industry and the seven years I have spent serving in various international board roles. This is a very exciting time to be at helm of ISES as I believe the shift in our global economy has given us (event professionals) the opportunity to have a voice. We are showcasing our industry as a real profession and positively impacting businesses as we help them move forward. With that in mind the ISES Board will be focusing on reviving the technology platform and education offerings. This way ISES will be able to deliver even more value to its members by delivering what they want, when they want it. By bringing our technology and education to the next level we will bring our industry as whole up, thus they will be better prepared to serve the various needs of the clients they assist.
MO: Another congratulations, for being one of the small business owners to complete The Goldman Sachs Foundation, 10,000 Small Businesses program. Can you expand on the experience for our readers and share some of the highlights of what you learned?
Kathy: Funded by Goldman Sachs and The Goldman Sachs Foundation, 10,000 Small Businesses is a $500 million investment to help small businesses in the United States create jobs and economic growth by providing entrepreneurs with a practical business education, access to capital and business support services. My peers and I studied accounting, human resources, negotiation and marketing, among other topics. The program also included one-on-one business consultation and advice from Goldman Sachs professionals. The 10,000 Small Businesses Program has allowed me to develop a living, functional growth plan to better leverage my 35 years in the hospitality industry as I start my role as President of the International Special Events Society. I have already realized a growth plan goal by hiring nuphorIQ, a marketing and public relations agency that will heighten our exposure in the industry.
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